On Marc Tucker’s Credibility (by Sandra Stotsky)

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In October, members of the New Hampshire legislature heard Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, tell them more fibs than Pinocchio ever dreamed up. How many legislators will prove to be gullible Geppettos is another matter. We don’t know. But here’s an analysis of just a few paragraphs of his fib-filled comments.

1. A well-known mathematician, who was a member of the Validation Committee for the Common Core, has denounced the math standards as too low in relation to the standards set by other countries; this proves that the standards are dumbed down. They are not only lower than the standards of other countries, but also the standards of Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, and California. It is true that James Milgram was a member of the Validation Committee and that he believes the standards are too low.

2. What the critics fail to mention is that, in addition to Milgram, there were mathematicians on the committee from Penn State, the University of Michigan, Macalaster College, Illinois State, Yale University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona State University, California Polytechnic, Michigan State University, The University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University who did not agree with Milgram. In fact, no mathematician involved in producing or formally reviewing the standards agrees with Milgram.

3. The critics will also fail to tell you that virtually every national professional society of mathematicians and scientists have voted to support the Common Core State Standards. In short, an overwhelming majority of mathematicians support the Common Core State Standards and disagree with Milgram.

4. Massachusetts was for a long time viewed by many, especially the leading critics of the Common Core, as having the best standards in the country. When the current Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts took office, he commissioned two leading education research organizations to undertake studies comparing the Massachusetts state standards to the Common Core. Both reported that the Common Core standards are at least as high, if not higher, than the Massachusetts standards. Massachusetts decided to abandon its own standards and adopt the Common Core.

[quote align=”right” color=”#3366FF”]Tucker doesn’t know a mathematician from a mathematics educator, raising the question whether he knows what he is talking about at all.[/quote] Let’s begin with Paragraph 2, since Tucker sets forth the fact in Paragraph 1 that he wants to contradict in order to discredit Milgram’s mathematical judgment on the quality of Common Core’s mathematics standards. Fact to be discredited: Milgram was the only mathematician on the Validation Committee. Indeed, according to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, there were “actually eight math experts on the Validation Committee, and six endorsed the standards.”

Here’s how these six “math experts” were described by CCSSI itself.

Sarah Baird, 2009 Arizona Teacher of the Year, K-5 Math Coach, Kyrene School District.

Jere Confrey—Senior Research Fellow and Joseph D. Moore Distinguished Professor at the William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University’s College of Education.

Feng-Jui Hsieh—Associate Professor in the Mathematics Department at the National Taiwan Normal University.

Jeremy Kilpatrick—Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Georgia.

William Schmidt—University Distinguished Professor and Co-Director of Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center.

Norman L. Webb—Senior Research Scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the National Institute for Science Education, both based at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education.

As can be seen, all six of the “math experts” who “validated” Common Core’s mathematics standards are in an education school and/or spend their time on teacher education. That is not surprising; all have doctorates in education. Milgram, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was clearly the only mathematician on the Validation Committee. Tucker doesn’t know a mathematician from a mathematics educator, raising the question whether he knows what he is talking about at all.

Now let’s look at Paragraph 3. It is true that Professor William McCallum, a consultant to Achieve, Inc., a mathematics professor at Arizona State University, and a lead writer of Common Core’s mathematics standards, asked the heads of many national mathematics and science societies for endorsements, and he received them. However, there is no evidence that any of their members ever read Common Core’s high school mathematics standards. Nor is there evidence that any of their members disagree with Milgram’s judgment that there are no precalculus standards in Common Core or with Professor Jason Zimba’s acknowledgment that Common Core does not prepare high school students for STEM. If members of these organizations do endorse high school mathematics standards that intentionally do not prepare high school students for STEM, they should speak up now and explain why.

Finally, Paragraph 4. Mitchell Chester, current Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts, did not commission any leading education research organizations to compare the Massachusetts standards with Common Core’s. The comparisons were done by Achieve, Inc., by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and by WestEd for the Massachusetts Business Alliance in Education (MBAE).* None is considered a leading education research organization comparable, say, to the Rand Corporation or Mathematica Policy Research. More important is the documented fact that Achieve, Inc., Fordham, and the MBAE all received funding from the Gates Foundation, directly or indirectly, for this purpose. It is also well-known that a Race to the Top grant for $250,000,000 was promised to Massachusetts if it adopted Common Core’s standards.

Aside from the fact that the Gates Foundation was eager to promote adoption of Common Core’s standards by Massachusetts and that it has also given millions to help Marc Tucker promote his own ideas on education in recent years, there are several reasons for viewing Tucker’s comments about these “comparisons” with cynicism. First, not one of the evaluations of Common Core’s mathematics standards noted the absence of standards for a STEM-oriented Algebra II and pre-calculus course (course standards that were clearly in the Massachusetts curriculum framework). Nor did any of the evaluations note the almost 50/50 division of reading standards in Common Core’s English language arts between “informational” texts and literary texts from K-12, a visible point of contrast with the Massachusetts standards and their stress on the study of literature at all grade levels. A “leading education research organization” would have used a methodology that picked up salient features of a set of standards.

Tucker plays fast and loose with the facts, and in the future New Hampshire legislators and educators should make sure a fact-checker is on the premises for a debriefing after he speaks.

* The MBAE indicates clearly that it commissioned the WestEd comparison.  Funding for the study came from the James B. Hunt Institute in North Carolina, which passed along funds given to it by the Gates Foundation for that purpose.

7 replies
  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg
    Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    Well, let’s see. I hate to defend Marc Tucker, but I can’t let Stotsky’s bilge stand unchallenged, either. The statement in paragraph 2 is misleading but not quite the utter lie being claimed. The problem is that there are quite a number of committees involved in the Common Core Math Standards, as Stotsky knows full-well. See, there’s THIS list, which I got from here:

    George Andrews, The Pennsylvania State University, Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics

    Hyman Bass, University of Michigan, Samuel Eilenberg Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics & Mathematics Education

    David Bressoud, Macalester College, DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics & President, Mathematical Association of America

    John Dossey, Illinois State University, Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics Emeritus

    Scott Eddins, Tennessee Department of Education, Mathematics Coordinator & President, Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics (ASSM)

    Brian Gong, The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, Executive Director

    Kenji Hakuta, Stanford University, Professor of Education

    Roger Howe, Yale University, Professor of Mathematics

    Henry S. Kepner, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Professor, Curriculum & Instruction and Mathematical Sciences

    Suzanne Lane, University of Pittsburgh, Professor in the Research Methodology Program, School of Education

    Robert Linn, University of Colorado, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, and Co-Director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST)

    Jim Milgram, Stanford University, Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, Department of Mathematics

    Fabio Milner, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Arizona State University, Director, Mathematics for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education

    Roxy Peck, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Associate Dean, College of Science and Mathematics and Professor of Statistics

    Nora Ramirez, TODOS: Mathematics for ALL, President

    William Schmidt, Michigan State University, College of Education, University Distinguished Professor

    Uri Treisman, University of Texas, Professor of Mathematics and Public Affairs & Executive Director, Charles A. Dana Center

    Vern Williams, Mathematics Teacher, HW Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools

    W. Stephen Wilson, Johns Hopkins University, Professor of Mathematics

    I know a lot of those folks. And I know that a lot of them are professional research mathematicians, some as renowned as Jim Milgram if not more so. Some are very much in Milgram’s educational/political camp. Some are not. And that list isn’t complete. I know that the feedback group included Hung-Hsi Wu from UC-Berkeley’s Dept. of Mathematics and Dick Askey from University of Wisconsin’s Dept. of Mathematics. My understanding is that while both were allies of Milgram and Stotsky in the peak years of the Math Wars, they’ve both spoken and/or written quite favorably about the Common Core Mathematics Standards. So a little more honesty and a lot less rhetorical baloney from Professor Stotsky would be a very welcome change of pace.

    Please note: I’m an open and vigorous opponent of the Common Core “State” Standards Initiative and have been for quite some time. My reasons have to do with the questionable legality of the entire process, the corporate forces funding and promoting it, the high-stakes testing that comes with it, the anti-public school, pro-privatization philosophy driving it, and the overall greed that explains why so many billionaires, hedge-fund managers, multinational corporations, foundations, think-tanks, etc., are backing the overall educational deform movement of which the Common Core is only one part.

    The politics have gotten “interesting” as of late, as right-wingers are splitting between those whose ideology seems to have currently outstripped their greed, and those who are staying true to the $$ that attracted them to begin with. I’m not quite sure how Dr. Stotsky’s employers, the Walton Family Foundation, oops, of course I mean the Department of Educational Privatizi… er, Reform, at the University of Walt…darn it! I meant Arkansas. My keyboard is running amok tonight. Anyway, I am unclear about how those who are licking their chops at how the Common Core and the high stakes tests will rip apart public schools and further pave the way for charters and, Dollars Willing, vouchers, are able to temporarily switch gears to oppose the Common Core (my guess is that they want to pin it completely on Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates, hoping no one will notice what other members of the Billionaire Boys Club and the plutocracy have been backing the bigger plan of privatizing public education for decades). But I’m sure they have a long-game strategy that will spell W-I-N for them and L-O-S-E for the vast majority of Americans, particularly the poor and people of color.

    Meanwhile, if someone could explain to me how Sandra Stotsky, whose credentials according to her c.v. are in French literature and reading education, is qualified to weigh in so loudly and so often about mathematics teaching, learning, curriculum, content, etc., I’d love to be enlightened. Last I heard, she was objecting to the inclusion of constructions in the geometry curriculum in Massachusetts, because it sounded like “constructivism” to her.

  2. MDawson
    MDawson says:

    Posted on behalf of Sandra Stotsky: “Tucker implies that there were other mathematicians on the Validation Committee. That is the only
    committee mentioned in paragraph !. The fact is that Milgram was the only mathematician on the Validation Committee. The names you mention may have been on other committees, but that is not what Tucker is talking about in paragraph 1.”

  3. Frank Edwards
    Frank Edwards says:

    As a teacher in California, a state going broke, Common Core training inservices are beginning.

    No one, not even administrators seem to know the end game other than students need to explain why, why, why? Lots of collaborative groups. As Steve Jobs says in “The Lost Interviews” only those of high caliber can work as a team – top engineers at Apple or NASA, but in public schools where cheating is a norm?

    Steve Wozniak, who invented the first personal computer and started Apple, was an introvert who did all his creative thinking alone in his cubicle.

    Common Core looks like a repeat of the 70’s group’em – groupthink where GATE students due the work for the average/mediocre student.

  4. Chris Ashley
    Chris Ashley says:

    This is the Feedback Group. The role of this Feedback Group is to provide
    information backed by research to inform the standards development
    process by offering expert input on draft documents. Final decisions
    regarding the common core standards document will be made by the
    Standards Development Work Group. The Feedback Group will play an
    advisory role, not a decision-making role in the process.

  5. dskancer19
    dskancer19 says:

    As I understand, this system, which is not a true education system, is a money-making operation and control object of and by the the Department of Education of which has no legal ground to control education. However, this Common Core, when used with bribery-of-sorts to individual systems, for fear of loss of support, the states will fold, despite the fact that it is too costly for the states themselves to undertake the total “hope-“less – change to “transform” the country into a one person governing-system. Historically speaking,,,history is repeating itself as we sit and watch – each day.

  6. Michael Paul Goldenberg
    Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    And that is besides the point. Stotsky knew there were renowned mathematicians who are generally fine with the math standards. She also knows but chooses to pretend otherwise that mathematics educators often know more about mathematics teaching and learning than do typical research mathematicians like R. James Milgram. And she REALLY needs to be honest about her own lack of professional qualifications to judge ANY issues in math content, teaching, learning etc., but never is. Never. She is a political animal who like many of her anti-progressive allies likes to change the rules for what and who counts to suit her own purposes. Honesty and modesty are not her long suits.

  7. Victoria M. Young
    Victoria M. Young says:

    The most outrageous lie told by Marc Tucker was in the introduction
    to his talk on Common Core.

    “Far from an advocate of Outcomes-Based-Education, I have consistently
    opposed it.” ———–That is not just a lie; it is a bold-faced lie!

    HEADLINE NEWS: New American Schools Development Corporation (page 75 beginning at the bottom of the first column ) The National Alliance for Restructuring Education “has as its ?goal a Total Quality Management (TQM), output-driven, performance-oriented system of education with students meeting high national achievement standards.”

    Marc Tucker got his big break ushering in outcome-based education “reform.”

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